Do you remember when ‘The Sopranos’ ushered in the cinematic aesthetic on television?
TV used to be about showing and shooting up The sopranos came with.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s television saw a change. We were entering another golden era where intricate characters, darker narratives, and captivating images would come to the small screen and change the way we see things. It is fitting that HBO led this change with its slogan “It’s not TV, it’s HBO”, which ultimately defined the new era.
Perhaps the most popular and influential title that premiered on the network at the time was The sopranos, a show about a hardened gangster with a family, a new therapist and a weakness for the ducks in his backyard.
Aside from the groundbreaking content and deconstruction of the gangster genre, the show changed the way we saw cinematography on television. It took away the standard angles and instead felt a lot more cinematic. Like watching an hour long gangster movie every week.
Check out the video from The beauty of about the cinematic recordings of The sopranos, and let’s talk after the jump.
Do you remember as The sopranos Heralded the cinema aesthetic on television?
Series creator David Chase was someone who has worked on many network shows such as The Rockford Files before he changed the television landscape with his wacky New Jersey family. He wanted to explore a character who felt like he could never be seen on TV. An unscrupulous villain who was out of shape and had anger problems, but found a certain vulnerability in his head.
The basis for the cinematic language of The sopranos lies within the genre. We get specific allusions to things like The godfather, white heat, and Goodfellas, as well as The public enemy. But it’s not a direct homage, it’s a pastiche of those projects that allows the show to play out Tony’s relationship with his mother and even the back room scenes that came out of it The Godfather so famous.
To bring the series to life, he worked with cinematographers Phil Abraham, Alik Sakharov, and William Coleman to attest certain aesthetics and tributes to the great gangster plays of the past. Together they shaped different seasons and shots to give the entire series a unified and unique feel.
There have been dozens of iconic episode directors throughout the series, such as Timothy Van Patten, John Patterson, Allen Coulter, Alan Taylor, Henry Bronchtein, Jack Bender, Steve Buscemi, Daniel Attias, David Chase, Nick Gomez, Matthew Penn, Lorraine Senna, Andy Wolk, Martin Brüstle, Lee Tamahori, James Hayman, Peter Bogdanovich, Mike Figgis, Rodrigo García, Danny Leiner, David Nutter, Steve Shill, Phil Abraham, and Terence Winter.
They all had to work within the established aesthetic, but also had some leeway to experiment and even shoot recalls from previous episodes. Little did they know that the effort they went through would change television forever. Now people want to see shows that are cinematic in quality. Audiences want to feel like the budget and value is expanding on every episode every season. You want shows to take risks with viewing angles, edits, and movements.
One of the things I admired the most about the show was the use of patterns. It shows Tony sitting and looking at something, in contrast to Carmela. Or shoot him out of the air and repeat that later. There were also so many slow dollys that took us into someone’s life and when they were hit, out again. We also took a lot of close-up shots of the eyes. The show starts and ends like this, with Tony facing fate.
Overall, this cinematography changed the way we watched television. It could be a little more than we expected. And every show after that also had to worry about how to continue in the cinematic tradition.
What are some of your favorite shots from the TV series? Let us know in the comments.